Weight is such a contentious topic. I recently read a book (Always The Fat Kid, definitely recommend it) and there’s a quote on the back that says we live “in an environment that simultaneously glorifies super-skinny bodies and eating unhealthy junk food” and it is so unbelievably true. We’re faced daily with temptation – whether it’s driving past a fast food restaurant or staring at a shelf of chocolate bars while waiting in line at the supermarket checkout. Advertising plays on our weaknesses for salty, greasy, sugar-laden treats that comfort and satisfy. And then slams us with guilt and shame for indulging. I’m not here to talk about fat shaming so I’m not going to get into it, I think no matter what size you are you deserve to love yourself and your body. I would also like to state that weight is not a good indicator of health. But I’m also a personal trainer and it’s my job to help people who want to be fitter and lose a bit of fat. This is gonna be a long one, so get comfy.
I think we all know weight loss is hard. I mean, there are super helpful people who say things like “weight loss is just less calories in and more calories out” but then there are the rest of us who understand that it’s really not that simple. Like, yes, the energy balance exists. If want to reduce your weight, reduce your calories and do some exercise and chances are pretty good you’re going to see some sort of result. But the real struggle here isn’t becoming a smaller human being. It’s change. If it was really as simple as eating less and moving more, nobody would be overweight. And there wouldn’t be such a booming diet industry.
Let’s start with the fact that most people who try to lose weight are successful, to some degree. But only 5% are able to keep that weight off, and in fact two thirds of dieters end up at a higher weight than when they started. I think that at this stage we are all aware that diets do not work. The simplest way that I can put this is that your weight is a reflection of your lifestyle. To quote Always The Fat Kid, “obesity is a behavior. [It] is really an accumulation of hundreds and thousands of bad decisions.” Our behaviours dictate our weight and changing our behaviours is actually a lot harder than we’d like it to be.
To an extent, there is an excuse that the reason people haven’t changed their behaviours is because they don’t know any better. I’ve seen this in my clients, when they say “I don’t know why I’m not losing weight, my diets been really good!” and on closers examination they genuinely believed that caramel syrup in their takeaway coffee was better than having a teaspoon of sugar (sadly, syrup is made of sugar and contains about 4 teaspoons of sugar in one pump). But the vast majority of people are pretty aware that the caramel isn’t a good idea and… probably neither is a cheeseburger.
So what do you do? Do you give up chocolate brownies and start slogging away on the cross trainer for half an hour a day until you’ve reached your goal size? What happens when you do reach your goal? Do you go back to your old eating habits? This is where most people get stuck. Remember how I said 95% of dieters regain the weight? That’s because the biggest, baddest, ugliest struggle you will ever face is changing your lifestyle. Your weight is a reflection of your lifestyle. Say it slowly so it sticks in your brain. If your lifestyle involves partying every weekend and drinking a box of Smirnoff Ice (over 2000 calories in a box of 12 cans just by the way) and following that up with a drunken trip to McDonald’s for a Big Mac combo (over 1000 calories for a Big Mac and a large fries, that’s not even including the drink) and then following that with a hungover fried breakfast and a day spent lounging in bed (not exercising) then you can’t act surprised that weight gain is going to happen. Add to that all of the other little things (sitting at a desk and spending most of the day sedentary, watching TV all evening instead of moving around, grabbing a muffin at morning tea instead of bringing healthy food from home) and you’re basically looking at a whole life upheaval. Think about that for a second. It’s hard enough to motivate yourself to start going to the gym regularly, now add to that giving up your evening TV shows? And not going drinking with your friends on the weekend when you know that it’s probably going to mean not hanging out with them at all?
Basically, weight loss is (without sounding cheesy) a life changing experience. You literally have to change your life to support it. And that is never going to be easy. You have to make systematic, permanent changes to your food intake and exercise. Start slowly, start going to the gym and build some muscle, find a form of exercise that you like and that makes you happy. Move your body in a way that feels good. Eat food that nourishes your body. Eat fresh, whole food. Stay away from strict diets that ask you to exclude entire food groups (especially foods that you love!) because you’ll just be more likely to crash off your diet and fall off the wagon entirely. Start getting up every hour and walking around your office, spend your evening doing something that doesn’t involve staring at a screen for six hours. Pack your lunch in advance so you don’t have to reach for that muffin. Breaking the habits of a lifetime can seem completely overwhelming, and even if you are successful in losing weight understand that you can still find yourself slipping into the old habits that got you into trouble in the first place. Remember that this is never going to be easy: the sooner you accept that, the better. And when you have a bad day, all you can do is keep going. Bad days will happen but no matter how slow you go, you’re going faster than you would be if you never started at all.